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Chanaka Amaratunga died 19 years ago, on the 1st of August 1996. He died a disappointed man, for he had not entered Parliament, which had been his dream. Only Chanaka, imbued in the Westminster style of Liberal Democratic politics, could have written an article entitled ‘In Praise of Parliament’ at a time when the Executive Presidency was well entrenched in Sri Lanka, and the tradition of the independent Parliamentarian long lost.

qrcode.30571558He had hoped to enter Parliament in 1988, when he was on the SLFP National List, but the defeat of the SLFP then had led to the sidelining of Anura Bandaranaike, who had been his great friend. He told me that, when he went to Rosmead Place on the day after the election, Sunethra had met him with the claim that the only hope for the party now was to bring Chandrika back. He had said this was nonsense, and that perhaps put paid to his chances. After her defeat, Mrs Bandaranaike too felt that the policies Anura had promoted had been a mistake, and moved back to the left.

Anura still had residual support, but he was soft-hearted to a fault, and gave up the Secretaryship of the party when he was appointed to the post on a split decision. The newspapers at the time reported that his mother had stormed out of the room, and he had followed her, and agreed to a compromise whereby Dharmasiri Senanayake became Secretary. The latter worked for Chandrika, and as we know she came back and took over. By then, though, it should be noted that Sunethra was supportive of her brother and when, forgetting the change that had taken place, I asked her what her sister was up to, she told me that she was trying to throw ‘my darling brother’ out of the party.

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The Editor

Colombo Telegraph

Thank you for sending me notice of the article in Colombo Telegraph regarding the current difference of opinion in the Liberal Party. I had not thought of myself putting such matters in the public domain, but I assume you want an answer to the various allegations made in the statement you have carried.

I can do no better than to send you the text of the letter I sent the Commissioner of Elections, and also my response to Mr Nissanka’s letter to me informing me that he off his own bat declared I was not a member of the Party.

I attach too the letter I copied to the Commissioner in which, in January this year, Kamal affirms that I am the Leader of the Party contrary to the claim in his statement. I should note that Kamal’s resentment developed because I did not make him Student Adviser in the Ministry of Higher Education as he wanted – see the following extract from an email of January 15th =

Considering all these development I suggest that when positions are offered in Rajiva ministry priority should be given to me and Ananda Stephen. I have no opposition giving to other members of the committee thereafter

In fact Mr Palitha Lihinikumara requested me tio get the “Post of Adviser- Student Affairs”. . He said somebody who has an understanding in present day radical student politics should be in charge on that..

I had no objection to appointing anyone willing to work full time to cadre positions but I told Kamal that I could not create positions as had been done previous. He was not happy.

Letter to Commissioner of Elections

Dear Commissioner

I have had a letter from the General Secretary of the Liberal Party claiming to declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Party. There is no basis for this decision at all, and the Secretary General has no powers to make such rulings.

I have replied as in the attached. I should also note that he casts doubt on my position as Leader of the Party, on the grounds that the meeting of the Committee that took place immediately after the National Congress last December was invalid. This again is a nonsensical position, since the first Committee meeting always takes place after the Congress. The Leader has been elected on that occasion ever since we changed the constitution to have the Leader elected by the Committee.

Unfortunately the General Secretary did not produce typed minutes of that meeting at the next Committee meeting in January. He has since refused to give us copies of what I believe was a hand-written document he read out, which recorded what had occurred.

I should note that he did give me a letter in January making it clear that I was the Leader of the Party. A copy of this is enclosed. However a couple of months later he decided otherwise.

I would be grateful if, in view of his arbitrary and almost lunatic behavior, you do not take cognizance of communications from him, but instead await a formal decision from the Committee as to the status of party officials.

Yours sincerely

Letter to Secretary General of the Liberal Party

Dear Kamal

Thanks for your letter dated July 15th, which I received yesterday by Registered Post. I am bemused by the contents, and the constant shifts in your position. It is also totally unacceptable that you should interpret Section 21 of the Liberal Party Constitution as allowing you to do whatever you want. All it says is that the Secretary General ‘shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Liberal Party. The Secretary General shall be responsible for the office and staff of the party’. I cannot understand how you interpret that to mean you can declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Liberal Party by Operation of Law.

The Minutes of the last meeting, which you yourself drafted, though deeply flawed, do not at any stage indicate that the Party wanted lists of its own to be put in for the current election. They indicate that you had followed up on the party decision for an alliance with the UPFA by writing to the President. In accordance with the reply received, three members, including yourself and the Deputy Secretary General, had sent in applications for nomination for the coming election.

You and the DSG indicated that you no longer wished to be considered but it was noted that ‘committee did not want to sabotage if any member of the party further negotiate with President regarding nominations’.

Your draft claims I volunteered (in fact I checked if I had a mandate from the committee) ‘to discuss with President Maithreepala Sirisena regarding a national list seat nomination and a district nomination for Kurunagala’.

Despite this you arbitrarily decided to put forward four lists and only informed the committee subsequent to nominations having closed. Having done this without authority from the committee, you purport to dismiss me from the party on the grounds that my National List nomination, made in accordance with our requests and the MoU that you signed, ‘causes much political hardships to the candidates of the Liberal Party’.

This is an illogical position. Under the circumstances I continue to see myself as a Member of the Liberal Party, and will act as such.

I note that the meeting of the National Committee scheduled for August 19th at the previous meeting has been suddenly cancelled by you. This has happened with regard to previous meetings this year. This time, after I was invited, you sent a note indicating that I was not welcome, and therefore did not inform me of the cancellation.

Yours sincerely

KN letter

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

qrcode.30456176Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Full text of an interview with Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

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reform agenda 12The Liberal Party was the first to say, more than two decades ago, that the Presidency as constituted by J R Jayewardene had too much power. In particular we felt it was wrong for the President to have total discretion with regard to appointments to important positions responsible for making decisions that affected the country at large.

This was not a popular view, and it was only more than 20 years after the Presidency was introduced that the matter reached boiling point as it were. So in 2001, in the last throes of the government President Kumaratunga had set up a year earlier, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced. But though it was obviously better to have some check on the President, the form this took was confusing, and not in accordance with general political principles.

What it did was set up a body of appointees who had to approve the nominations of the President to individual positions. It also had the unparalleled power of choosing nominees to Commissions, which the President was expected to endorse. This was bizarre, for to confine an elected President in this way, turning him or her into a rubber stamp, is grossly inappropriate. It was not surprising then that President Kumaratunga flatly refused to appoint the Elections Commission that had been selected by the Constitutional Council.

I myself feel that the Parliamentary Council set up under the 18th Amendment was more in accordance with political practice internationally, though unfortunately it did not have veto power. Still, had the Council actually ever met, it could have fulfilled a public purpose in that it could have put in writing objections to nominees of the President. After all in a classic Westminster system, a Head of State who is not elected by the people will not turn down a nominee of an elected Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister is careful to select appropriate people, since a delay, or a simple suggestion that he reconsider, would immeasurably reduce the moral authority of the nominee. In recent years a polite but detailed account of why Mohan Pieris was inappropriate, with for instance the arguments so clearly presented by Nagananda Kodituwakku, would have made it difficult for President Rajapaksa to persist with the nomination. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.29819846In our discussions about the 13th Amendment, one objection suggested with regard to having Members of Parliament assessing those to be appointed to decision making positions was that they might not have time for the task. The point was politely put, on the grounds that Parliamentarians had other tasks to occupy their time, but underlying it also was the idea that they might not have the required expertise. For this reason it was suggested that they should have advisers for the purpose.

I could understand this, and that is why, in the amendment I proposed, I had an Advisory Committee. But given the standard constitutional assumption that restrictions on the discretion of the Executive should be through elected representatives of the people, I was careful to provide that that be elected by Parliament. I specified the Single Transferable Vote System which would ensure representation of a range of interests. I have been told that this would be difficult to understand, but it should be noted that this was the system in use for the elected members of the Senate in the old days, and it would be sad indeed to accept that today’s Parliamentarians would not be up to using such a system.

But, without being invidious, at the very least we can accept that, given the vast electorates they have to cover, MPs will not generally be able to fulfil all the responsibilities required of them. Given the talents and resources they have to possess or acquire in order to win election on the current mad preferential system, obviously they will not be in possession generally of the talents that are required of Parliamentarians in most parts of the world. Sadly, given the manner in which Parliament has been devalued in the last quarter of a century, there is no incentive either to acquire such capabilities. The type of training provided to Parliamentarians in the old days, when my father as Secretary General actually explained what was expected of them, has been ignored for years, given the J R Jayewardene tendency to see Parliamentarians simply as lobby fodder, kept in line through sticks and carrots.

All that is yet another argument to expedite Electoral Reform, since allowing MPs to concentrate on particular electorates will free up time and energy to actually fulfil their legislative functions. And given that each party will have to select just one individual for each constituency, they will necessarily have to engage in a thoughtful selection process, which is more likely to produce candidates with a range of skills and abilities. Parties will also be able to pick individuals of distinction for what they would regard as safe seats, since there will be no danger of what happened for instance in Kandy at the last election when Sarath Amunugama, arguably the best candidate the SLFP had in terms of intellectual and administrative competence, nearly failed to win election. And actual defeat has occurred, as we know, to other capable people such as Karunasena Kodituwakku and Milinda Moragoda. Read the rest of this entry »

100 daysBy Lakna Paranamanna

The State Minister for Higher Education Professor Rajiva Wijesinha maintains that the promises made during the presidential campaign period have taken a backseat with the general elections in the offing. At an interview with the Dailymirror Prof. Wijesinha was candid on the reasons that led to his resignation, on the reforms he planned in the higher education sector. He has expressed negative views on the progress of the 100-day programme of the new government.Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q. Was it solely the resignation of the UGC Chairman – a subject on which you claim you weren’t consulted – that led to your resignation from your portfolio?

Last week I attended the portrait unveiling of Mr. Kadirgamar at the Peradeniya University. One of the first questions directed at me by an academic was why I was defending this lady (UGC Chairperson). I said I’m not defending her because no-one has attacked her. But we are here for good governance and a lot of principles have been violated.

“Appointing the Cabinet and ministers was  delegated to Ranil and Chandrika. Chandrika took care of HER SLFP while Ranil simply did  what he had to do: look after the interests of the UNP”

KabirHashimThe first principle on which my resignation was based was a simple one –  if someone is in charge of a subject and you are their superior, you do not interfere [with what they do in office]. When I was appointed as a State Minister I registered my disappointment with the President, but said I would continue to work because it was an interesting subject.

But, one week later, Kabir Hashim was appointed the Cabinet Minister and he told me that even he was not informed of it [ appointment] beforehand. But he told me that he did not have time to look into ministry matters since he would be busy with election work and for me to take on the responsibilities.

However, on Friday (13) I found that he had been ordering my secretary to do things without telling me. I was cross about that. I wrote to him and said it was unethical and that if he wished to get any information he should have asked me.

1423706631_8746526_hirunews_shanikaMeanwhile, I got an e-mail from the UGC Chairperson Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama saying that Minister Hashim had asked her to resign and she thought I knew. I was never consulted on the matter and when I attended work on Tuesday (16) I found she had resigned. I was in a fix because the Act does not give the minister any powers, only responsibilities; and the minister can only act through the UGC. Incidentally, on that day for the first time I discovered prima facie evidence of corruption, which I ordered my secretary to inquire into. The Act states ‘Chairpersons shall work until successors are appointed’; so I informed her to continue work until her position was filled. I was told it might not be a good idea because the FUTA will be annoyed that I’m trying to keep her when I was only trying to get the work done. I decided I cannot operate under such circumstances and  wrote to the President informing I would be resigning with effect from February 17 or to appoint me as the Cabinet Minister for Higher Education. The second reason was due to the demand for the UGC Chair to resign that would result in a violation of the principles of justice. If people make allegations I will definitely investigate them. But I have not received a single official complaint about her.

100 daysQ. Did you make any statement implying  you were against university dons engaging in politics?

During a discussion, in Peradeniya,  I mentioned that we must have systems to stop university officials getting involved in politics. It was decided that perhaps the best step is to have a rule that says university officers don’t have political rights. I never mentioned anything about dons because they have always wanted political rights. They pride themselves in it and why not. They are  brighter and more aware etc. Of course they should engage in politics. You and I know that during the previous regime, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa did wrong when he simultaneously engaged in politics while being a secretary of a ministry. But it was not so clear cut about the UGC Chair because she was not a public official but an academic. Read the rest of this entry »

Parliament 20 Jan 15Mr Speaker, as the Former Chief Whip also said earlier today, it is an unusual pleasure to speak today as the Leader of the Liberal Party in Parliament. In that capacity I extend my congratulations to His Excellency the President on his strength of character in taking up what seemed an impossible challenge, and the eminently civilized way in which he has worked after his victory. We also congratulate the Prime Minister for understanding political realities and thwarting the game plan of the former President by supporting a common candidate. It is salutary that, in addition to being Prime Minister, he has taken charge of economic development, since I believe we need the careful planning and discipline that he will bring to this portfolio.

Mr Speaker, though the Liberal Party is a small one, we can take credit for having first identified the problems of this Constitution and this Electoral system which our government is pledged to change. Though I know the parties of the left objected to the 1978 constitution, they did so on the basis of a return to the Westminster model. This was foolish because they had been victims of excessive power in the hands of a Prime Minister under the Westminster system, during the previous few years.

We, or rather the Founder Leader of the Liberal Party, Dr Chanaka Amaratunga, was the first to clearly identify the dangers of excessive power, and to explain the way in which checks and balances could be introduced. In this regard I am sorry that I received very little support from other parties for the Standing Order changes I proposed over a year ago. Thought the Leader of the NLSSP did raise a question on my behalf, and the then Chief Whip tried valiantly to get some progress, no one else in authority seemed to care. In this regard I hope, Mr Speaker, that in introducing changes we work in terms of principles rather than engaging in ad hoc measures. We should make sure that Parliamentary Committees are constituted as happens in the rest of the world, with no authority to Ministers, but rather ordinary Members of Parliament being the Chairs. This should be mandatory for finance oversight committees and, while I am sorry that the TNA and the JVP are not in the cabinet, I believe their commitment to financial integrity should find full play in the chairing of those committees.

Hasty legislation was the reason for former President Chandrika Kumaratunga not acting in terms of the 17th Amendment and refusing to appoint the Elections Commission suggested by the Constitutional Council. I am glad therefore that, in getting rid of the 18th amendment, as to which I trust this house will be unanimous, we replace it with something based on constitutional practice in the rest of the world without blindly returning to the 17th amendment.

Similarly Mr Speaker, with regard to electoral reforms, we were the first to suggest change and to advocate a mixed system. We were then accused of trying to introduce foreign customs. However, soon enough all parties agreed on the need for the German system, though twice there were efforts to distort this. I remember discussing this in the nineties with the then Minister of Constitutional Affairs in this Parliament, and him admitting there were slight changes, changes that in fact distorted the principles of the German system. Late in 2002 I urged the Hon Karu Jayasuriya to act quickly, but he delayed, and the government was dismissed. I am glad therefore that the Hon Prime Minister made clear our commitment to swift reforms in this regard.

Mr Speaker, in celebrating the need for reform, the Liberal Party can be proud that alone in government it formally advocated reforms for the last two years. I should mention here though the debt owed also to the Hon Vasantha Senanayake, who along with me drafted a formal letter to the former President at the beginning of last year about the need for Reform. Had the former President listened to him and accepted, even with amendments, the constitutional change he tabled, perhaps things might have been different. But, instead of taking advice from moderates in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which I hope will return to its traditional moderation under its new leader, he was led astray by extremists and those who thought the state was theirs to plunder.

 

Mr Speaker, the Liberal Party told the President in writing in October that he should not have a hasty election but instead work on the reforms promised in the manifesto on which the UPFA had won the election. We told him we could not support him in an election without reforms. I know that the left parties had also advised him not to have a hasty election, and I am sorry that they, whose integrity I used to admire, did not also stand by their beliefs the way a few of us did.

I have been told I was courageous, but since as the former President said, I was someone without a political future, as a member of the Liberal Party, I had perhaps nothing to lose. The real heroes of today are His Excellency the President, the other members of the SLFP and in particular the Hon Vasantha Senanayake who spoke out so early, and the leader of the UPFA and the per minority members who left government in that tumultuous week after the Election was called. In wishing the government well, in hoping for opposition cooperation now for reform, I salute them for courage which I hope will not be necessary again in our political system after we get rid of the excessive authority of the Executive authority.

Thank you

Prince 1It is not likely that the President will be awakened swiftly from the enchantment cast upon him by his closest advisers. However, if and when he does realize that a change is essential if he is to preserve not just his legacy, but even perhaps his Presidency, he has some obviously desirable remedies to hand.

For though the Parliamentary Select Committee has thus far achieved nothing, it has had some very sensible proposals brought before it by moderates within government. The Liberal Party made suggestions made on its experience of acting as a link between successive governments and representatives of Tamil parties, but even more important were the suggestions made by Vasantha Senanayake on behalf of a group of young politicians and professionals. Subsequently the Liberal Party, after studying the proposals, wrote to the PSC endorsing them.

Vasantha was the scion of a great political family. His great grandfather D S Senanayake had been Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister, and his great uncle Dudley had been elected Prime Minister three times. Both had presided over Cabinets with representation from popular Tamil political parties.

Vasantha however had left the United National Party, which his great grand father had founded, and now sat in Parliament as a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, to which the President belonged. He, like many other promising youngsters, had been sidelined by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had, on the pattern of his mother’s cousin, J R Jayewardene, wanted absolute control of his party, and thought ability less important than personal loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »

Prof Laksiri Fernando, in responding to my account of discussions about a Senate, has reminded me about publishing the proposals, as I had mentioned, and I will send them in as soon as I am back in Colombo. However, while I do not recall promising to publish my correspondence with Mr Sumanthiran – which is not in fact of any great significance – perhaps it would be useful, given current controversies, to publish the draft he and I prepared about land matters.

What we realized, which is why I proposed that we look at the matter quietly, was that the issue was causing much controversy based on dogma. The TNA insisted that the 13th Amendment conferred land powers on the Provincial Councils, the government relied on the Constitutional provision that land grants were in the power of the President. Mr Sambandan, while insisting that he had no objection to any citizen acquiring land anywhere on his own, went into a lengthy account of government colonization schemes which he said had changed the demography of the East.

I did point out that something similar had happened in the Wanni, where after the conflict we had come across large numbers of Tamils of Indian origin who had been settled there because of various colonization schemes funded by international agencies – including for instance the schemes run by Jon Westborg when he headed Redd Barna, if memory serves me correct. But at the same time I could understand Westborg’s motivation, given the appalling attacks on Tamils in the hills orchestrated by members of the Jayewardene government, in both 1977 and 1981 – just as I could understand the need to settle landless peasants in empty areas that had never been occupied by anyone previously.

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Last week the Marga Institute held a discussion on several sets of proposals that had been forwarded to the Parliamentary Select Committee looking into ‘Political and Constitutional Measures to Empower the People of Sri Lanka to Live as One Nation’. After much animated discussion, it was decided to work with the set of proposals put forward by Vasantha Senanayake, and a couple of groups have been established to flesh these out.

Senanayake is perhaps the brightest of the young Members elected newly in 2010, a factor noticed by several embassies that have sent him on delegations of young Members to visit their countries. These proposals sprang from his work with the One Text Initiative which had seen him spearhead a group of Parliamentarians, representing government as well as different opposition parties, who had interacted with members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, both Sinhalese and Tamil, in Britain. They had sent a report on their visit to the President, though there has been no response to the interesting ideas and suggestions they put forward.

Vasantha had worked together with a group of young professionals to put forward the proposals which included some startlingly innovative ideas. Perhaps the most important of them is not however new, because it was one of the principal elements on which three recent documents on constitutional reform agreed, namely those of the Liberal Party, the UNP and the group led by Rev Sobitha. This was the need to get rid of the present system of elections, and I think it would be useful to return to this now, since the last set of elections to Provincial Councils made crystal clear – again – how destructive the current system is.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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